I Want to be the Friend Not the Parent (aka I Clearly Need America's Supernanny)
Growing up I feared my mother's anger. Her wrath, when incurred, could produce a hailstorm of slapping, hair pulling and guttural screams that if I close my ears and really concentrate I can still hear today. Of course now that she's an elderly grandmother that saucy side of her personality- and even the mere thought of her doing anything but raising her hand to give anything other than a hug to one of her grandkids seems absurd and almost inconceivable.
She’s not the same fiery mother I grew up with, the one with a temper and back hand that when raised would tie up my childhood stomach in knots. I feared my mother and until the age of 12 I was a good little soldier. I tried to be perfect. I didn’t respect her out of love; rather it was out of fear. And when I became a mother I vowed that regardless of the circumstance I wouldn't allow myself to be provoked to the point where I’d lose complete control and strike one of my kids. And I am proud to say in the ten years that I’ve had kids- I’ve been able to stay true to my convictions.
Does that mean I live in a land of unicorns and rainbows- where the sights and sounds of kids running amok, clearly defying my wishes and screaming, arguing and yes even raising hands to one another does not exist. Hell to the no. In fact, as ashamed as I am to write this- and despite never having used violence to discipline my kids- rather having relied on good old-fashioned time-outs, no TV, no iPod, no Wii , no phone punishments — my normally sweet natured mama’s-boy-like son was recently sent home with a note from his teacher that he hit another child during recess. Both of my kids were never those two-year old biters in daycare, they’ve pretty much followed the rules and seeing this teacher's stern cursive written words to me in indelible red ink... well it just made my heart sink.
How could my child have perpetrated such an act- and more importantly how on earth can I reconcile this behavior? And why wasn’t I prepared for, and aware of the fact, that raising kids and dealing with bad behavior simply escalate as they get older? To be perfectly honest, I’d give anything to get back those terrible twos, when our greatest concern was a toddler throwing his bottle on the floor when he was angry—this six year old stuff is brutal!
So how are we handling this behavior? While my first instinct is to try befriend my kids so that they’ll never fear me as I did my mother, my husband warns me if they feel too familiar with us they simply won’t listen or take what we have to say seriously. We need to strike a balance between earning their trust, while remaining as the two people who have the last word, especially when it comes to punishments and discipline. And sure I can talk a good game and take away TV for a week, only to give it back after an hour of “good behavior.” But after this latest incident I am determined to stand tough. In other words—I won’t back down.
So we’re trying to discipline via taking away privileges like television, iPods, video games and creature comforts my kids have grown accustomed to so that they realize these are not "givens"; these are luxuries that need to be earned, and the way to do that is to behave — and never lay hands on anyone or show disrespect to another human being.
I’ll admit it - it is a tough, hard line for me to draw. I desperately want them to know they shouldn’t fear me and I also don’t ever want them to feel unloved. But I also know this kind of behavior needs to be halted at all costs, or else its severity will snowball. And - knowing what I know now - I’m willing to bet disciplining a 14 year old as opposed to a six year is just going to get that much harder.
So what did we do upon getting this note about my son’s bad behavior? We stripped him of all his privileges and we had him write a note to his teacher expressing his sincerest apologies and regrets. So far, hard as it is, we’re on day two and I haven’t rescinded his punishment (which is so incredibly hard for me). In terms of questioning the teachers about the incident, my instinct is to initially get behind the teacher and act as a united front — and so far that is what seems to be working out for us. If his bad behavior escalates and it appears to me as though he is being singled out or there are other issues, at that point I will have no alternative but to question his teacher and the school administration. But I have to admit -- with all this free time on his hands to ponder his actions I’ve heard him articulate his feelings in a way he’s never been able to express previously and he seems to be genuinely remorseful. And my 10 year old, watching my new found ability to stick to my guns, is standing a little straighter and acting a bit more polite ( I mean, she knows where her bread is buttered- right?!)
I believe as I delve further into tweendom and then the teenage years, this discipline thing will get a lot more intense, and I’ll just need to navigate each situation on an individual basis always remembering one thing - I am not my kid's friend, first and foremost I am their parent.
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